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A Letter to my 10-Year-Old Self

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 12.07.35 AM Dear 10-year-old self,

Hi there. It’s me. You. I've been challenged to write a letter to my ten-year-old self, so here I am. And here you are. And this is what we do. And here is what I know:

You’re going to be an awkward kid. Bad bangs, weird last name, more sensitive than most. You’ll soon be plucked from a place you love, and thrust into the alien north where you’ll be the only one sporting cowgirl boots and a seriously heavy accent. While the other students spend half the year making fun of the way you pronounce “pen,” you’ll spend it trying to convince yourself they’re just really into school supplies as you seek refuge between the covers of cherished books.

You’re going to be tall your whole dang life. Pants are never going to fit you quite right, so you might as well start getting used to it now. Whatever you do, don’t shrink away from who you are or shrink away from opportunity. Promise you’ll always remember that any person who asks you to be less than you are is no one you want in your heart or your life. (And just so you know, on that fateful Halloween a year or so from now, when that old lady accuses you of being “too old to trick-or-treat” just because you’re the tallest of your friends, you’ve got my support. Go ahead and flip her the bird, because you’re really going to want to do it.)

The 90s will be chock full of life lessons. (And you’ll get to relive them all over again when the 90s become retro-cool sometime in the 2010s.) What it really comes down to is this: Lunchables are horrible. No matter how deprived you may feel at the moment, you’re really not missing out. Stock up on Clearly Canadian, though, because it’s set to go extinct. And Britney and Christina from the Mickey Mouse Club? You’ll be hearing from them again.

I’m not gonna lie. Things are going to get rocky in junior high. Puberty is going to be a train wreck. Growing boobs will traumatize you. Starting your period will traumatize you. Changing for gym class will traumatize you. Being asked to dance will traumatize you. (Believe it or not, you'll turn down an invitation at the seventh grade dance, and residual feelings of lingering guilt will bubble up any time Toni Braxton comes on the radio throughout the duration of your adult life.)

High school will be fun. You should try harder in your classes than you will, but you’re going to learn way too early that you can do just fine with minimal effort, which will free you up to focus on fun. (And that’s something you’ll never regret.) Everything – and I do mean everything – with your friends is going to feel like the center of and end of the world. Zero percent of it will matter in the long run. But those friends are still your friends today.

Little self, stand up. Stand up for yourself. Stand for something. Take a stand. You’ve got opinions and a voice – use them at your discretion and to your detriment.

Don’t ever miss a chance to take a midnight swim or splash in the ocean. The universe doesn’t care how you look in a swimsuit, and you shouldn’t miss a single opportunity to revel in creation and all His glory.

Say yes more than you say no. Accept the invitations that come your way as often as you can. A decade from now, you’ll look back and long for just one more country drive, one more night at the park, one more conversation, one more night at Burnham, one more Italian soda at Maxwell’s. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Wring every last drop you can from your marvelous existence.

You’ll be bad at being bad – and that’s never going to change. The things (and parents) you’re going to push against will keep you out of so much trouble. And you’ll be so grateful for that one day. Trust me.

Sometime around 1998 your friends are going to take a lunchtime vote. They’ll decide you’re going to be the first to marry because you’re that much of a romantic. They couldn't be more wrong. You’ll still be holding out at 33 – because you’re that much of a romantic. Stay hopeful. Stay patient.

Spend less time writing code names for boys in secret notebooks. Spend more time telling them how you really feel. Be vulnerable. Be brave. I know it's scary.

That DIY dye job the day before senior pictures? It's a bad idea that’s going to make a great story.

No matter what anyone tells you, a Manhattan isn’t a good starter drink. But that’s a lesson you’re going to have to learn the hard way.

Take sensory snapshots and file them away, because change is coming and it’s just a couple years away. Memorize the beauty of red dirt, the song of cicadas and the smell of mesquite trees on a hot Texas day. Soak up the sun from your little world of inner tubes, sunscreen and chlorine. You won’t want to go, but you’ll know you can’t say. And one day you’ll look back to realize your first love wasn’t a person – but a place.

Eventually you’re going to begin to realize you hit the family jackpot. The years and the miles will try to pull the ties that bind apart the seams. Don’t let them. Weddings and funerals will fling you back together from far corners from time to time over the years. And when you find yourself in same room once again, you’re going to quietly marvel that these are your people. And they are such wonderful people. Really.

You will make mistakes. You will have regrets. You will hurt people. You will hurt yourself. Challenge yourself to find a solution. To learn a lesson. To apologize and mean it. To forgive and let go.

Let the seed of faith grow. It really is the root of everything.

Pet all the dogs you meet. Be happy. Have fun. Go barefoot. Refuse to let the world tame you. Say a prayer of thanks every night as your head hits the pillow. Get up early enough to welcome each new day.

Never lose sight of who you are, little self. And I promise to do the same.

See you soon, 33-year-old You


The Sidewalks of Chicago

chicago yellow balloons There is a place in Chicago, high above the streets I can tell you about. I've only been there once.

There is a place in Chicago, high above the streets I can tell you about. I won't tell you the name, because it's not important. But it's there, believe me. High above the hustle and bustle of a street named after a state, some of the most world's most talented musicians have met their destiny.

It is more treasure chest than shop. A landing pad where string instruments arrive like long-awaited foreign dignitaries with names like Francois and Annalinda. Some of them are named after artists or constellations, others named after lovers lost between the pages of the world's greatest unwritten love stories. Each one has a history. Many of them, if not most, are centuries old. One sat in the corner, listening to gossip at Marie Antoinette's ball. Another recalls the first breath of fresh air after years passed hiding in Amsterdam. The youngest is rumored to have a distant cousin that continued playing that night as the ship went down.

When you meet the dignitaries your instinct is to hush. You want to believe they will whisper their stories if you listen closely enough.

There is a sadness to the dignitaries. They have lost-and survived-everyone they ever loved and every hand that ever loved them in return. They have lived a series of lives, a constant reincarnation marked by the passing of time and the ticking of t he clock. Dutifully, they have sung again and again under aging hands, having lost as soon as they are found. They serve faithfully. They endure knowing others cannot. The dignitaries mourn; you can hear it if you listen, like holding a seashell to your ear. Every last breath, ever final farewell and ever swan song remains in the and of their scrolls and the spaces in between.

The people who buy the dignitaries spend a small fortune; at times, the price of a modest home. It seems unfathomable, but once you've heard them sing, you understand they're not just buying an instrument, they're liberating legends and wrapping their fingers around a legacy.
There are families that bring small children to meet the dignitaries. And though the children do not yet know it, their families have also brought them to meet their destinies. The children politely bow and greet the dignitaries. One by one, down the line, they raise their tiny fingers and tiny hands until they stand before The One that sings out in their native tongue. In a split second a path is cleared and a golden light shines just a little bit brighter through 48,000 crystals dangling above the sacred hall on 7th Avenue.There is a place in Chicago, high above the streets, I can tell you about. You would never find it were you not looking. It's behind a door with a brass handle and across a marble floor to an ancient elevator, the kind you only see in old movies. A black man with kind eyes will help you now. He'll pull aside a brass gate with strong hands before asking you which floor you're headed to. Tell him the 6th floor or maybe the 8th. It could have even been the 9th, I can't quite recall. Pass down the short hallway, then a right down the long corridor. If you hit the water fountain you've gone too far.To your right you will see a series of leaded glass windows. Some will be propped open. Step toward them, take a deep breath and see-really see. In the middle of this building in the middle of all this concrete, nine stories below there is a garden thriving in a city. Almost nobody knows. But now you do.Take a seat on the old wooden bench worn from years of visitors coming and going. Close your eyes. Somewhere in the distance the click of a woman's high heeled shoes comes nearer, then further away from you.It's quiet now and you are aware of the sound of your breathing and heartbeating high above a city that does not know of courtyard gardens or dignitaries or of your existence.

At the end of the hall there is an arched doorway. You can see it from where you sit. A single, short step leads up to an old wooden door. Light escapes through a crack between the floor and the base of the door. Beyond the door you hear voices, muffled but jovial. Then the click of a door beyond the door.

And then the singing begins.

You are hearing a familiar song for the first time. Every memory rushes back to you. Discovering toes. The comfort of being tucked into bed as a child. The infinite weightlessness of soaring through the air on a tire swing. The touch of your grandfather's hand patting your back. The smell of July at 10:30 p.m. The feel of a paintbrush in your hand. The taste of vanilla ice cream and South Carolina peaches. The exquisite sensation of slipping beneath the surface of the water in a swimming pool. The exact moment a ride on a bike with no training wheels finally makes sense. The electricity of the first kiss. The rush and rebellion of your first beer. The people you know and knew are laughing and smiling and waving as they go sailing by on a brilliantly colored carousel. Every dream, every hope, every wish is coming back to you now, like lady bugs

Open your eyes.

Stand up.

Turn away from the arched doorway. Walk down the long corridor. Take your time. Turn left down the short hallway. You'll find the elevator and your friend waiting to return you to the lobby from the 6th or the 8th or the 9th floor. He's quieter this time.

When the elevator stops and the doors open, step out and cross the marble floor. Pull open the door and step outside. Let the sunlight envelope you as you squint upward seeing only white light.

To your left a yellow taxi pauses at a stoplight as a child passes through the crosswalk leading a yellow balloon.

High above a bow is lifted from strings as a familiar life begins again on the sidewalks of Chicago.

A Letter to an Author: Chasing Narwhals and Saying Hello

Writers writing writers. It's a bit like bears riding bikes. It happens.

I read your book today, cover to cover.

From a writer to a writer, thank you for this.

I have always found it strange to self-identify as a “writer.” In my experience, when you tell people, "I am writer," they look at you as though you've just announced you are leaving the priesthood to track narwhals for the rest of your life.

It’s even stranger when it's the others who identify you as a writer. “I’ve been doing this since first grade,” I want to tell them. “And I won a handwriting contest in 6th grade. You won't believe what I can do on a steamy bathroom mirror and a grocery list.” (But that would be a little snotty, I realize.)

Sometimes I cannot tell whether I am the happiest girl to ever pick up a pen or if I rue the day ink was born. Nobody tells you what this world is really like. (Though I suppose I could have guessed had I paid more attention to the infinite bottle-bottom wisdom of Hemingway, Bukowski and Anais Nin.) Writers live in a suspended state of voluntary solitude, surrounded but alone. We speak to everyone and no one. The feelings, the thoughts, the experiences are ours, but we fling them out into space and onto the page, only to give them away to strangers and sometimes-acquaintences like cards at Christmas.

(Sometimes, I admit, I am tempted to run back to the mailbox to reel them in again.) “These are mine! They are special. You cannot understand.” And then there is that one stranger who sends a note in broken English reading: “You remember to people that life is wonderful” and the world makes sense again.

I read your book today, cover to cover.

You were like finding tribe. Your words transported me to the prime of my utter recklessness. When everything I said and did was a dichotomous soup of “fuck you” and “I love you,” pulling closer and pushing away, with you but somehow against you. (The royal "you," I mean.) I wrote nightly letters, odes to the secret lives of neon lights and ponderings about the first person to add chili powder to chocolate ice cream. I wrote about bouquets of wooden spoons and a master plan to make the weeping willows stop weeping. I was propelled toward paper by a treacherous muse. The kind I had no business talking to (and certainly had no business loving.)

The broken heart I could have forgiven. It’s the songs and places that bothered me the most. With enough time and thread, you can patchwork a heart back together again. I wish I could say the same for the city.

But I suspect you already know all of this. And after reading your book, I wonder if, at the end of the day, broken hearts and road trips are really all that different.

I read your book today, cover to cover.

You remembered to me that the world is wonderful.

All of this is just to say…thank you.

And hello.